Jónsi – ‘Shiver’

Sounds like … an avantgarde and electronic pop journey through unknown sound fields.

It has already been ten years since the release of Go, Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi’s first and only solo record so far. Now – one decade later – he decided to put another solo album called Shiver out into the music world. Like his debut LP, Shiver differs a lot from the organic post rock music Jónsi creates with his main band. It feels like the musician tries to test musical limits in general on his new record. It feels like he was asking himself the question: How many experimental elements can I use whilst still making pop music?

Jónsi didn’t go on this musical journey by himself, he rather had been accompanied by a few other creative minds: A.G.Cook (PC Music, Charlie XCX – check our recent feature with the producer mastermind) co-produced the record and included his trademark sound for eclectic electronic elements, Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins recorded a track with him (Cannibal) and he even got Swedish pop star Robyn on board for a duet (Salt Licorice). Adding the creativity of those artists together, an album with a wide musical range emerged. From simple pop elements, to clubby electronic beats and industrial music vibes right up to organic and melancholic melodies – the sound variety on Shiver is huge.

The Icelandic musician shows that the changed his approach to his own music: for Shiver, he went from an organic, nature connected sound world over to more industrial and synthetic territories. But still – although the experimental elements occupy the whole album – there is a hint of the honest emotional approach hearable which Jónsi is known for. These roots are especially expressed in the first two songs – Exhale and Shiver – which slowly lead the listener to more experimental and deeper soundscapes. Particularly Wildeye, Salt Licorice and Swill represent Jónsi’s new approach: they all extend a certain pop sensibility with more adventurous soundscapes, appearing almost menacing at some parts. Observing Jónsi’s new album from a distance, it still is a record which suits the Icelandic musician perfectly. The melancholic and goosebumps provoking undercurrent we are used from him is findable on every track of the new record, although he is exploring new sound territories. And that’s what defines a great artist: the ability to switch genres without losing one’s unique musical style. (Miriam Wallbaum)

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Shamir – ‘Shamir’

Sounds like … where pop meets grunge.  

Shamir’s self-titled album moves with ease in the realm of pop. The artist makes it his mission through the record to fuse pop roots with guitar-heavy sounds sometimes even drawing on 90s grunge influences. With unapologetic confidence Shamir pushes beyond familiar terrain indulging in the noisy sides of his music on Paranoia. Dreamier sides shine through on the upbeat Running even though the lyrics are no less heavy. On the song the musician is ridding himself from toxic friendships – the ode to mental health is especially important considering the amount of non cis youth living in toxic environments. Otherside is a high-energy indie pop anthem, which would also work well as the soundtrack to a fierce boxing match. Diet is classic pop – the grand sound of a full band merges together to a catchy groove topped by the singer’s vocals. Shamir is a hopeful record and one full of unstoppable energy – the artist manages to speak about serious issues while spinning them to become positive messages. Hailing from Philadelphia is a distinguished indie pop musician who gives the genre of pop some extra spice with grunge influences and 90s infused guitar shredding. it is an encouraging work of music and if it weren’t already the red bull slogan I’d say it gives you wings to fly. (Liv Toerkell)

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Working Men’s Club – ‘Working Men’s Club’

Sounds like … the iconic Haçienda club in Manchester just re-opened.

Ever been to Todmorden? Better said: ever heard of Todmorden? There’s a reason for that and young musician Sydney Minsky-Sargeant can sing a song about that … well, ten songs, to be exact. The self-titled debut album of his band Working Men’s Club is an ode to suburban boredom where any perspectives are just as far away as the big city lights of iconic Manchester which lies a few miles down South of Todmorden. The teenage misery of small British towns has always been an efficient source of creativity for many musicians, often resulting in brilliant anthems about despair, isolation and dreams of escapism. Joy Division’s sound wouldn’t have been so bleak if it wasn’t for Ian Curtis growing up in the limited possibilities of Macclesfield. Minsky-Sargeant follows that philosophy not just in terms of songwriting but also in terms of sound. Working Men’s Club feel like a direct throwback adventure that takes the listener back to the glorious and gritty heydays of 1980s post-punk and new wave and the feeling one might have had when attending a night at the iconic Haçienda nightclub in that decade. The record unfolds itself like a modern take on that era when post-punk, new wave and acid house could go easily waltz hand in hand on the dancefloor.

Valleys is a fitting opener here as it mixes a pumping dance beat with a playful house piano and even adds a bit acid techno flavour towards the end. Minsky-Sargeant’s lyrics, however, don’t reflect the positive rave vibe of the track as he sings “Trapped inside a town, inside my mind / Stuck with no ideas, I’m running out of time.” It’s a theme you will notice throughout the record – even lighter moments like Outside or Tomorrow can’t shake off a feeling of desolation in their core. “You’re my sunshine suicide, break my mind” he repeats like a mantra in the latter one. Working Men’s Club don’t shy away from catchy hooks and addictive rhythmic patterns like in John Cooper Clarke, the funky tribute to the iconic punk poet by the same name. And of course, there’s room for bleak post-punk moments here like the industrial Be My Guest or the gritty Cook A Coffee. In the end the band totally breaks loose in the mighty closing track Angel which is over twelve minutes long and ends in a furious almost eternal wall of electric guitars. What an epic finale and exclamation mark to this stunning debut album. You don’t need to be a fan of the originals (New Order, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays etc.) to fall for the dark and haunting spell of this record but if you are you’ll find an instant connection to what is already one of 2020’s most outstanding debut albums. (Norman Fleischer)

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I See Rivers – ‘Deep & Rolling Green’

Sounds like … the oceans around the Welsh coastline had suddenly started to sing.

A change of scenery can lead to the most stunning new developments in life – and in the case of the Norway-bred float-pop trio I See Rivers it even prompted the creation of their anticipated debut. The programmatic title Deep & Rolling Green gives a first hint at the nature-laden backdrop chosen for their first full-length, as the songs dive deep into these images. After completing uni in Liverpool and starting to perform under their nature-inspired moniker, they almost by accident got introduced to the community of Pembrokeshire in Wales, which they eventually embraced later on. On sixteen songs, they deliver wistful odes inspired by the vast freedom of open spaces and present melodic wanderings upon what it means to be alive in this world. In all its captivating aura, this work is statement, that will hopefully carry these three women towards shores yet to be conquered. 

Apollo is the first song and enchants with tender vocal harmonies, backed by subtle synths and is a soft start into harmonic soundscapes, which the trio will explore in the tracks to come. It is also not the only nod of I See Rivers to Greek mythology, as Helios shows. Ambient guitar picks and a single voice initiate the piece, which soon evolves into a choir-like ballad that relates „a love story through the eyes of the Greek god of the sun“. While songs like that, as well as the following Grow And Go are upbeat and spread a certain brightness (remarkable also the gospel-vibe of I Look Like My Mother), the second half of Deep & Rolling Green turns towards a more weighty touch, which is equally pleasing. Oh My God is a soft vocal-guitar ballad, as is the following ITILMTBWIA (I think I like myself the best when I’m asleep), and both are solid tunes in that they paint a more melancholic picture, which is important for the range that this record provides. Yet another highlight is the sombre Dying Moon. Fronted by a lead guitar and a threefold vocal harmony, it confronts the fears of „giving too much of yourself away“ by using Hemingway’s story The Old Man And The Sea as a narrative backdrop. Yet, the weight is washed away at last, as you get immersed into the title-giving final track, that develops its power by the sheer delight of trifold vocal harmonies. These three individual voices, as it turns out, remain on the horizon, as much as the stories underneath the soundscapes drift from one shore to the other. (Andreas Peters)

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Hot Chip – ‘Late Night Tales’

Sounds like … a grooving reminiscence of the currently shut down nightlife culture.

There are several ingredients that make a mixtape a truly good one. A good mix feels like a journey into the creator’s musical mind; it plays with emotions, expectations and offers surprises down the line. For the ordinary listener that’s quite a subtle experience but for music nerds such a musical ride can be a really sweet adventure. For almost two decades the Late Night Tales series is a steady source of quality when it comes to stunning mixtapes that are enjoyable on multiple levels. You can either go with the flow or specifically discover hidden gems the curators of each edition put in there. Over the years many magnificent selections have seen the light of day, each sounding different than its predecessor but as far as I can remember there haven’t been any truly bat compilations in the series whose release frequency slowed a bit down over the past years. Hot Chip‘s selection is the first one in one and half years (Floating Points‘ brilliant mix followed before that) and it became another wonderful testament of the strength that lies within this series. The British indietronic veterans are well known for their genre-bending musical knowledge and it’s therefore no surprise that Hot Chip‘s Late Night Tales became another unique nocturnal journey.

It became a lovely tradition of the series that the responsible artists add exclusive new material to their own mixes and while that’s usually down to one track, Hot Chip added none less than four new songs to this mix. Following the ambient intro At Dawn by Christina Vantzou the band’s Nothing’s Changed is a fitting and reflective opener that feels like a personal birthday anthem celebrating twenty years of Hot Chip. It’s another reminder of Alexis Taylor‘s brilliant songwriting. From the ambient dub vibes of Rhythm & Sound to the cosmic disco vibes of Suzanne Kraft the mixtape gains some speed and takes the listener to a futuristic disco night that also includes Fever Ray and PlanningToRock. As we’re reaching the centre of the tape – Somewhere I Have Never Travelled by Matthew Bourne suddenly slows down the tempo again before Hot Chip present us their heart-whelming cover of The Velvet Underground’s classic Candy Says. From here on things first gets spherical again thanks to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith before we enter slightly jazzy and more experimental territory, only to end up in a state of full late night melancholia towards the end. It literally feels like the Brits are taking us from one exciting night club to the next while we slowly lose ourselves in the neon lights. In a world that had to cancel nightlife culture in 2020 Hot Chip‘s Late Night Tales is not only a brilliantly crafted mixtape but also a bittersweet reminder of the joyful and empowering feeling those nights tend to give us. (Norman Fleischer)

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